Debate about Bristol law school’s name continues as two opposing petitions race to 1,000 signatures

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By Katie King on

More than 600 supporters want building’s links with slave trade erased, more than 600 do not

The debate surrounding Bristol law school has hotted up this week, after a student made a counter-petition calling on the university not to change its name.

Two weeks ago, Legal Cheek reported three students had launched a petition asking the University of Bristol to change its law school’s name. The Wills Memorial Building is named after Henry Wills (pictured below), a businessman whose fortunes are said to derive from slave-grown American tobacco.

Henry Wills

The petitioners — who say the building should be named “after somebody the entire university population can be proud of” — have garnered the support of 649 people, as well as Bristol’s Students’ Union.

In a Facebook post (embedded below), the SU said “it’s time” to give the building a modern name that fits with the university’s “image of inclusivity and diversity.”

Despite the SU’s support, a name change is certainly not set in stone. For starters, the Russell Group university doesn’t seem too keen (read our previous story on this for Bristol’s full comment), and nor do many other students.

One of these is John Goacher, who is studying civil engineering. Days ago, he launched a petition called ‘Do NOT rename Wills Memorial Building’. It states:

By deleting the Wills family from the universities [sic] identity it only serves to erase the past. By keeping the name we can shine a light on the horrors of the past and ensure that they are not repeated.

Goacher also calls on the SU to withdraw its support for the original petition because: “it is not supported by the students they are meant to represent.”

So, who is winning? At the moment, it’s neck and neck, with the counter-petition currently sitting on 664 supporters. Both campaigns have set their targets at 1,000 signatures — but who will get there first?

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